Jen Herbert, Senior Strategist at AMP
I haven’t been to Disney World since I was eight, but this year I was fortunate enough to go to South by Southwest (SXSW), which I have now dubbed “Disneyland for Adults.” When I wasn’t busy presenting with the rest of the fierce AMP team for our participation in YouTube’s SXSW Creative Agency Challenge, or being distracted by the puppies at the Amazon Prime activation and the endless CBD-related samples at the wellness expo, I promise I was putting on my Brand Strategist hat and attending a wealth of panels and keynotes with my colleague and SXSW partner-in-crime, Andie, AMP’s Director of Business Development.
The best part was listening to speakers with such diversity in perspective, and realizing that all of these accomplished individuals offered a unique method for building and strengthening a brand tribe: through social impact, play, internal creativity, and centering the customer experience around a singular emotional benefit.
While we’ve been hearing about “brand community” for some time, “brand tribe” is a relatively new term in Marketing, yet it’s important because it denotes a much deeper relationship between brand and customer. While a member of a brand community need only participate on occasion, perhaps via a purchase or a ‘like’ on Instagram, a member of a brand tribe wholly believes in that brand. Connection with that brand becomes an outward expression of one’s identity to the rest of the world. Brand tribe members wear merchandise, create user-generated Social content, join loyalty programs, go on auto-pay plans, and, perhaps most importantly, recruit others to join the tribe too.
Building A Brand Tribe Through Social Impact
Study after study has proven that in 2019, consumers want to back brands that share their values and create a positive change in the world. That being said, brands can’t talk at customers about the good they’re doing; they need to work with their customers to spread good together. As panelists during How Brands Can Engage the Social Impact Generation outlined, social impact must be participatory.
One panelist, Viveka Hulyalkar, Co-Founder and CEO of Beam, has developed a customer engagement platform that partners with a given company, say, a fast-casual salad stand. The salad company decides how much they’re willing to donate per purchase and a cause they would like to support, such as third world female education. Customers can then log into the app to track how each salad purchased gets them closer to buying a textbook for a young girl. Another panelist, Helena Hounsel, Social Media Manager at Brandless, offered an example of how a brand tribe of activists can be built on Social: “Rather than spending International Women’s Day showing how your company volunteered at a women’s nonprofit, why don’t you instead ask your audience which women are inspiring them this holiday?”
By rallying around causes that your brand and your customers share a passion for, and then providing a platform for your customers to become ambassadors for the cause, your social impact becomes experiential and your brand tribe becomes united around a higher purpose.
Building A Brand Tribe Through Play
All work and no play makes a brand’s tribe very dull. IBM’s Dr. John Cohn reminded us of that in his session, Prioritizing Play in an Automated Age, where he outlined how making room to play can smooth the bumps during life’s tough disruptions. During the talk, Dr. Cohn told us about play projects of his, like an 18-foot tall animatronic pumpkin man as well as an art car built for Burning Man. He recounted how droves of people, some of whom then became his fellow creators, were drawn to his projects while they were being built and shown off to the world.
In other words, play can help you find your brand tribe, in a very “if you build it, they will come” kind of way. Through your bravery to look silly and/or fail, and your willingness to surrender to wonder for no reason other through indulging curiosity, your brand will show its authenticity and customers who identity a similar raison d’être in themselves will be drawn to you naturally.
Sure, you might be saying, A wacky scientist from IBM can have a little fun, but how can brands? Let’s not forget this Southwest flight attendant who transformed the safety demonstration into a burlesque performance, or KFC apologizing for running out of chicken with an on-the-nose newspaper ad featuring its carton respelt as FCK.
Building A Brand Tribe Through Internal Creativity
It is often hard for brands to prioritize looking inward, to their own company culture and values, when there are always so many externally-focused tasks to complete. The beloved bakery Milk Bar, however, is proof that the spirit of brands that cultivate internal creativity will always shine through and be felt externally by customers.
During Innovation in Pursuit of the Unexpected, Christina Tosi, cookie-baker extraordinaire and company founder, along with her agency partner, Michael Greenblatt of REDSCOUT, reflected on how the Milk Bar brand toolkit is a toolkit in the truest sense of the word. Through the codified system of the color palette, off-kilter logo placement, branded pastry box tape, and decorative stamps, Milk Bar employees at locations around the country are encouraged to leverage their creativity to use the tools as they’d wish. For example, the Milk Bar team suggested designing the delivery truck to look like it was covered in the Milk Bar tape; others use the logo and colors to bedazzle denim jackets and beanies that they wear to work.
This DIY spirit has created a tribe of Milk Bar devotees. Because employees are welcome to live and breathe the brand uniquely, customers also view the brand as a living and breathing thing to interact with–for example by holding up a cup of “cereal milk” soft serve to a pretty background for the perfect Instagram, or by decorating their laptop in Milk Bar stickers.
Building A Brand Tribe Through Creation of “Brand Feeling”
Lastly, it’s easy to get bogged down in lifting brand metrics. Yet during Following the Feeling: Creating Brand Value, Columbia University lecturer Kai Wright argues that the most important brand metric is how you make others feel. After all, Wright noted, humans make 95% of our daily decisions on “auto-pilot,” rather than weighing pros and cons in order to choose the best and most rational choice, with emotions influencing nearly 70% of our decision-making.
He cited brands who have expertly structured their brand “LAVEC”– lexicon, audio cues, visual stimuli, experience, and culture– around a singular brand feeling. Take Disney, whose feeling of “happiness” is supported by audio cues like fireworks and visual stimuli like wearing the iconic mouse ears, or Gatorade, whose feeling of “endurance” is brought to life through the lexicon of calling its products “fuel.”
If a customer can rely on your brand not just for great products or services, but for a guaranteed emotional experience, your brand tribe is then powered by the strength of shared human connection.